Archives for YA fiction

Book review: The Outsiders

I came to this Michelle Paver series late, years after reading the award-winning ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series which starts with the wonderful Wolf Brother. Doubtful that any character could be as admirable as Torak, it was a joy to read about Hylas who, like Torak, is an outsider. The Outsiders starts at a run from the first page and doesn’t slow up. Hylas has been attacked, his dog is dead, his sister missing and a fellow goatherd killed. And the killers are after him. Adrift at sea, disorientated, Hylas fears he must die. And then there follows a glorious section about dolphins. I won’t give away any more of the plot. The narrative is a shape familiar from Wolf Brother – wild boy in trouble, on the run, not sure who is friend or foe, sets off on a quest where he makes new alliances – but that doesn’t mean this is not an entertaining read with new characters, a new setting, and different myths and gods. Michelle Paver’s books for children and young adults are set in mystical places but are based on solid research about the way our ancestors lived and survived in wild lands, the animals
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Magician’s Land

Thrown out of Fillory and back in the non-magical world, Quentin Coldwater retreats to his former magical university in Brooklyn. Brakebills. He becomes a professor where he teaches his discipline, described as ‘mending small things’. Remember this, it will be important later. This is the final book of the trilogy by Lev Grossman and like book two, The Magician King, this final instalment is action-packed. The story moves between present and past, Fillory and earth, above ground, in the air and underground. Seeking adventure, and money, Quentin meets a new group of underground magicians and accepts a task for payment of $2m. On the team is Plum, who admits she once attended Brakebills too. In parallel we get the stories of Quentin, Eliot [still in Fillory] and Plum. In order to understand the threat in the present, we have to go back in time to fill in the real story of what happened to the Chatwin children [whose true adventures inspired the novels of Fillory]. And it becomes plain that the Fillory known by Quentin from his childhood love of those novels, is incorrect. The novels were fictional and Fillory is not what it seems. Depending on them all, is the very
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Found

September. A sunny day in Paris and I needed a book to read on the Eurostar train home. I needed a page turner. I searched my Kindle. What was required was Harlan Coben. I started to read Found, Coben’s latest UK release, which I thought was the new Myron Bolitar story. Except, it isn’t. It is the third in the Mickey Bolitar YA [young adult] series. I didn’t know this series existed. Mickey Bolitar is Myron’s nephew. I guess the two M’s got me confused… oh well. Found may be a YA novel but that doesn’t stop the story from being gripping, in true Coben fashion this really rattled along. Ideal for a train journey. Mickey is Myron Bolitar’s nephew who, surprise surprise, is a basketball player and amateur detective. This is story three in the series, and I did need to know the back story. But Mr Coben [below] is very efficient at filling that in without stopping the story moving forward. Two storylines are woven together. On Mickey’s basketball team, one player moves away suddenly, another is dropped from the team for taking steroids. Mickey investigates. Meanwhile, continued from book two in the series, one of Mickey’s friends
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Categories: Book Love.

Not such a bleak ending, says Kevin Brooks

Author Kevin Brooks, winner of the 2014 Carnegie Award for Children’s Fiction, appealed for publishers not to put too much emphasis on happy endings and in doing so stirred up huge controversy. According to The Times newspaper, Brooks said in his acceptance speech: “This school of thought – that no matter how dark or difficult a novel is, it should contain at least an element of hope – is still fairly widespread and ingrained in the world of ‘young adult’ books… I just don’t agree with it.” Teenagers, he added, “understand things” and should not be “cosseted with artificial hope”. Brooks, whose winning book The Bunker Diary is published by Puffin [part of Penguin] is said by The Times to have had countless discussions with his editor at Puffin as he fought to retain his dark ending. To me there are a number of issues. One is about modern society being over-protective of young adults. Second, it is about publishers not trusting authors. I haven’t read the book. Perhaps part of the issue is that the Carnegie Prize for Fiction is for children’s books and YA fiction is just that, for young adults. Perhaps YA is too grown-up for the
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Holes

This book by Louis Sachar has been sitting on my shelf forever but I picked it up this week when I exhausted my Kindle’s battery. How lovely to hold an actual book again. I know this is a book for tweens, but I’d heard such good things about it that I wanted to see for myself. I loved the premise: that Stanley is wrongly found guilty of stealing a pair of trainers and is sent to a juvenile correction camp where the punishment is to dig a hole a day. Five feet deep and five feet wide. Every day. It is supposed to be character-building, but Stanley thinks there is another agenda. “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.” It is a story about finding out who you are, standing up to bullies and finding your bravery. “Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.” Woven in with the day-to-day tale of hole-digging is the background to Stanley’s unlucky family;
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Insurgent

I didn’t read this straight after Divergent, the first of the trilogy by Veronica Roth, and so felt at a bit of a loss at the beginning of Insurgent. I could have done with a brief recap, a couple of paragraphs would have sufficed. So this made me irritated for the first few pages. Book two is very action-led and the pace fairly trips along. I’m still trying to get a handle on Tris’s character, she is a complex mixture of two factions: her upbringing in Abnegation [considerate, selfless] and her adopted faction Dauntless [brave, daring, reckless]. It’s a dangerous mixture which gets her into trouble, and that drives the story along. She is confrontational, brave, but often makes questionable decisions. She distrusts Four’s father and believes he is misleading them: “…sometimes, if you want the truth, you have to demand it.” Demand, not ask: this tells me more about Tris than about Four’s father Marcus. We do see more of Tris’s inner world in book two compared with book one, perhaps because she is maturing into her Divergent personality. “I drift off to sleep, carried by the sound of distant conversations. These days it’s easier for me to fall
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Divergent

I wonder what percentage of Young Adult [YA] fiction currently published features a dystopian world. Are our teens so disenchanted with their own real world that they only want to read fantasy? Certainly Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer have a lot of responsibility for this, their two series have dominated the bookshelves and cinema screens for the last six years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the feistiness of Katniss, though I was not so keen on Bella who was a bit too sulky for me. So to Divergent by Veronica Roth, a book that had passed me by until I read online reviews, reviews which prompted my Kindle purchase of the trilogy. The story is set in a city which was once Chicago where every citizen belongs to one of five factions. Each faction represents a human virtue: Candor [honesty], Amity [kindness], Dauntless [fearlessness], Abnegation [selflessness], Erudite [searching for knowledge]. At 16, teenagers are assessed for their affinity to the factions and can choose the faction they will be for the rest of their life. Anyone whose test results are inconclusive is labelled ‘divergent’. Tris, the protagonist, is divergent. This is her story and is the first of a trilogy. The
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Categories: Book Love.

Book Review: The Lost Girl

I admit to never having heard of this book by Sangu Mandanna until seeing it mentioned in ‘favourite read’ lists on a few blogs. I ordered it purely on that basis and had no idea it was a YA novel. It is a romantic story of love and loss, grief and identity, set in the UK and India, with sinister echoes of Frankenstein. Eva is an ‘echo’, a non-human ‘woven’ by a mysterious organization called The Loom which makes copies of real people for their family in case the loved one should die. The idea is that the ‘echo’ slips into the dead person’s shoes so minimising the family’s loss. Of course it is not that simple. Mandanna handles a difficult subject well, not avoiding the awkward moral issues which litter the dystopian story premise. The world is disturbingly almost normal, littered with everyday familiar references. Eva, who lives in the Lake District, is the echo for Amarra from Bangalore. I found it quite an emotional read, not just Eva’s situation but her guardians, her familiars, and Amarra’s friends in India. What seems a simple premise at the beginning, done with the best intentions, becomes increasingly dark as the story develops
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Categories: Book Love.